Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Radiohead’s new music video

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Radiohead - House of Cards - 3D Visualisation

Well something had to wake me from my blogging slumber, and this certainly is it.

Radiohead are a band I have a lot of respect for. They try something new. First they did it by releasing their latest album ‘In Rainbows’ for download at whatever price you wanted to pay for it, before eventually releasing it on CD. A great marketing ploy, but still a risky one.

That was interesting, but the release of their new music video for the song ‘House of Cards’ takes that very much to the next level. They chose to film their video entirely without cameras, instead using lasers to collect 3D data of them singing and other clips, the results of which formed their new video. There’s even a youtube clip of how it was made.

Okay, so that’s quite interesting. It’s different. But, enter Google, and it becomes more so. Google have taken that very data that makes up the music video, and they’ve shoved it into a 3D viewer, so that if you’ve got the patience to let it load, you can actually spin around and zoom in on the music video playing out in front of you. The above screenshot is of me doing just that. It’s strangely cool, and quite satisfying to play with, take a look at it here, and you too can be creeped out by Thom Yorke singing to you as you zoom in on his face.

And keeping with the ‘free’ theme of their album, Google has also put up the actual raw 3D data so that you can take it and manipulate and display it in anyway you should see fit, provided you know what you’re doing, which is another great touch. There’s a youtube group for those who do have a play to put their videos up for everyone to see, which I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Take a look at everything there is to know, including the video itself over on Google Code, you won’t be sorry.

Oh, and I suppose I should also mention that I saw Radiohead play live in Glasgow Green at the end of last month, for the first time. They were great, they played plenty of the classics, and some recent stuff, making for quite an evening. Even the constant rain didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits, although the occasional rogue umbrella in the way tried to.
Radiohead - Glasgow Green - June 2008 (Photo by Peter Watt)

BBC iPlayer meets the iPhone and iPod Touch

Friday, March 7th, 2008

If you live in the UK (or really anywhere outside of the USA), as I do, then you’re maybe aware that we’re often left behind when it comes to developments in being able to watch TV and film over the web on our computers, with big announcements from Apple and Microsoft often applying only to the USA in the first year, possibly the second, culminating in a watered down, not quite so good version for the UK.

But lately that’s changed, thanks to the BBC. When the BBC iPlayer hit beta late July 2007, I quickly signed up to see what it could offer over similar software that had already been provided by Channel 4 for about a year. Initially, it was a little disappointing. Limited programming available, extremely basic navigation, sometimes flakey searching, and the need to use Internet Explorer to select programmes for download. Ugh. But it’s primary function, to download TV programmes that you may have missed for up to a week after it was shown, worked well enough.

But gradually it got better, and when it launched on Christmas Day 2007, the guide was better designed, and most programmes shown on any of the BBC channels were now available. Also, whereas before you’re only option to watch a programme was to download it on a Windows XP PC, you could now stream anything on Windows, Linux or Mac, and Vista had joined the ranks of officially supported download operating systems (you had to go a little out of your way to get hold of the software under Vista before this).

Since then, things have got even more interesting. The guide continues to get better at highlighting shows for you, and that’s good, as is support for the Firefox internet browser for downloading programmes, but today saw a particularly interesting development that I want to point out.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

If you go to the BBC iPlayer site from an iPhone (which I don’t have), or the iPod Touch (which I do have), there’s now a pink “Beta BBC iPlayer for iPhone” tag. The BBC has blogged about it on their BBC Internet Blog, which contains comprehensive information about how they’re doing it. That’s about all the help you’ll get at the moment from the BBC though, as there’s only a small selection of programmes that can actually be played on the device today, and all programmes on iPlayer are listed regardless of their compatibility with the iPhone/iPod Touch. There’s no indicator as to what will or won’t work, and most at the moment don’t, as you can see here.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

That’s no doubt going to change in the coming days as more programmes get encoded in the Quicktime format that’s required for you to stream a programme, but now it’s a bit like walking around in the dark where there are lots of light switches, but very few that work.

Still, when you finally hit upon a compatible programme, it works superbly over a WiFi connection. At the time of writing this post, only one of the six ‘Featured’ programmes do work, and there’s no real pattern that I can see in the full list, between those that do and those that don’t.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

Above you can see the initial page when you strike it lucky and find a working programme. There’s a snapshot from the show, and a big blue and white play arrow can be seen in the bottom right. Clicking on it, quickly whizzes you off to the iPhone or iPod Touch’s movie player, and the programme almost instantly starts to stream to you.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod TouchBBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

The quality is suprisingly good, both video and audio come through nice and clearly, it’s definitely very watchable. And when you get bored of the programme, or it finishes, you just tap ‘Done’ and you’re straight back in iPlayer ready to watch more, or to write a blog post about it.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod TouchBBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

If you’ve got either an iPod Touch or iPhone, it’s well worth having a play. Programmes I found that worked were at least one episode of Eastenders (I only watched the first couple of seconds, but it seemed to be about one of the characters trying to make ironing look cool), last week’s “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross” (probably funny at times, I didn’t watch much of it), and a BBC Politics documentary in the “Storyville” series that looked so dull I didn’t bother taking a shot of it. Well not of it playing anyway.

BBC iPlayer beta for iPhone & iPod Touch

I’m interested to see where this all goes, obviously streaming is nice when you have WiFi available, (and if you’re near one of “The Cloud“‘s hotspots, it’s free for BBC content) but downloading to the iPod Touch or iPhone is preferable in all other cases. You can do that now through the iTunes store with some BBC programmes, but it costs money and there aren’t many programmes available. Making the BBC programmes available to rent for free would seem the logical thing to do if the BBC can do a deal with Apple. Even the Apple TV could actually maybe become useful if it was supported too. At a push.

It’s such a good idea in fact, that the BBC already thought of it almost immediately after Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, announced movie rentals on iTunes. In fact, the BBC’s openness and honesty about their plans for BBC iPlayer and other areas of development on the web, often through their BBC Internet Blog, is what makes them such an interesting company to watch.

Canon finally notices Vista has come out

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Burn O'Vat, DinnetBurn O’Vat, Dinnet Hosted on Zooomr

Since getting my Canon 5D, one thing that’s been really bugging me is the lack of Windows Vista support by Canon. Unlike everyone else that makes cameras, Canon don’t support the ability to just attach your camera and have it appear as a drive for transferring photos. No, they have their own WIA driver which apparently works okay in XP, but there had been no Vista release until now.

I wasn’t really bothered about the photo transferring aspect of things because I was just plugging my CF card into a USB card reader which is faster anyway, but I did want to have a play with Canon’s software that allows you to control the camera from the PC.

So, I was pleased to see today via the MSDN blog that a Canon RAW codec has been released for Vista (which allows the CR2 format to appear thumbnailed in a normal explorer window and be viewable in Windows Photo Gallery), and with it updates for all the various pieces of Canon software that previously only worked under XP, including a new WIA driver.

The Microsoft Photography Blog has a rundown of how to find the RAW codec, but you’ll also find the WIA driver for Vista by going to the same bit at Canon, along with other bits and bobs like the EOS Utility, which works a charm, controlling my camera from my PC was a novelty that took at least five minutes to wear off.

It shouldn’t really have taken Canon so long to get Vista support out, but at least when they did they covered everything, and it works. The photo above if you’re wondering is just a recent photo I took with my 5D, it’s an HDR shot made up of three exposures taken of the Burn O’Vat, Dinnet in the highlands of Scotland. It has very little to do with this post.

Google Maps comes to Windows Mobile

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

I just read over on Google’s blog that they’ve released today a version of Google Maps just for Windows Mobile devices. As my phone is currently a Windows Mobile 5-based Orange SPV C600, and I also have an iPaq hx2750 again with Windows Mobile 5, I obviously had to give this a go.

Google Maps Map imagery on an SPV C600 First it went on my phone – one of the cool parts of Apple’s demonstration lGoogle Maps Satellite imagery on an SPV C600ast month of the iPhone was how well integrated Google Maps was. Google Maps on my Windows phone seemed pretty fantastic too, but with the advantage that I don’t have to wait until the end of the year to get it 😉 It’s really simple to use, and over my GPRS connection it could pull up all the map data very fast. I could pan around and zoom in and out with only a couple of seconds wait inbetween, and flicking to showing the satellite view didn’t seem any slower either. Zooming in and out is just a case of pushing up or down on the volume button on the side of my phone, and hitting the menu key throws up the option to find your position either by typing it in, or by tracking your location via a GPS device. On my phone I don’t have such a GPS option, but on my PDA that’s another matter – more on that shortly.

You also have access to similar features of the Google Maps website such as finding nearby businesses or getting directions from one point to another, although I haven’t been able to get it find me any businesses in the couple of (admittedly Scottish) locations I tried – perhaps that side is still more US-focused for now. Google Maps will also let you quickly jump to the address of any of the contacts on your phone just by clicking on their name from a menu.

There isn’t however the kind of hybrid view you can get on the full Google Maps of both map and satellite imagery, but you can flick between one or the other which is still useful.

Having wrestled with so many supposedly simple and quick map sites on my phone over the last few years that have resulted in me giving up (either from lack of detail, lack of patience, or unwillingness to pay Orange for the privelege), and ending up lost, Google Maps is really a breath of fresh air. It’s now got a permanent home on my phone, and really mobile providers should consider bundling it on Windows phones as standard.

Google Maps Satellite imagery on an iPaq PDAWith all that success, I also tried it on my iPaq. Google Maps Map imagery on an iPaq PDA showing menu optionsThe experience is pretty similar, same options but obviously on a PDA you can see a bigger portion of the map, and as it has a touch screen the zoom options are presented on transparent buttons near the bottom of the screen, freeing up the left hand menu option for carrying out searches. You can also far easily set start and end points for getting directions, just by holding down the stylus on the location you want to mark, and choosing the appropriate menu option that pops up. Aside from that, it’s essentially the same – except that I tried it out via a wireless WiFi connection instead of via GPRS, so the speed was near instant.

As I had access to a GPS device that fits into the CompactFlash slot of my iPaq, I thought I’d give it a go and see how well Google Maps can find my location. My experience with other GPS applications for Windows Mobiles hasn’t been good, with there often being too many confusing options and ultimately it taking an age to pinpoint my location. With Google Maps though, there’s one option – if you select ‘Track Location (GPS)’ and your GPS device is enabled in the Windows Mobile OS, it just detects it and gets on with finding the nearest satellites. In my case it found my exact position and loaded up the map data instantly with out making any fuss. Perfect.

Things that could be better? Not a lot, really just the ‘Find Nearby Business’ option having more for UK users, and it would be fantastic if it could also track my route across the map as I move, logging as it went via GPS. That way I could see a quick visual representation of where I’ve been, and maybe even export it out for use elsewhere.

I really can’t say enough good things about Google Maps for Windows Mobile – I’m really pleased Google took the time to develop this, it’s going to come in so much use when travelling, and is definitely far more reliable than anything else I’d used thus far. Nice.

Twas the night before Vista

Monday, January 29th, 2007

When all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Well, it wasn’t really a mouse, but my aforementioned SpaceNavigator – but there’s a beta driver for Vista which sorted that out nicely for now.

With the official consumer release of Windows Vista due tomorrow, I thought I’d give an update on how I’ve got on with Vista over the last few months since I last talked about it. You may remember that my big issue with giving up Windows XP for good, in favour of snazzy new Vista, lay in the lack of good drivers from nvidia. There’s been the odd beta driver released since then which have certainly improved the situation somewhat, OpenGL performance became actually usable under Maya, albeit with some buggy quirks – the 3D viewports would go white when you took away focus from them to tweak a channel setting, and wouldn’t refresh until you clicked back on them, which is far from ideal.

Nvidia is expected though to release some much improved drivers sometime on January 30th, with a bit of luck they’ll do the trick – there’s been some leaked variations of it in the last couple of days, but I’ll hold out and see what the final release is like. They’re not the only ones to leave things late though, the few gaps left in the area of driver support have been largely filled, not so much on my laptop (which has worked just fine with the drivers available back just before the business launch in November, although some were updated by Windows Update along the way), but with my fresh install of Vista on my desktop.

Yes, I finally took the plunge and introduced Vista to my desktop. I even bought it a nice new shiny 500Gb Seagate hard drive to have to itself, with a view to ultimately migrate from Windows XP on the older hard drive, to this one. I figured the time was right, and that there would be drivers for everything I hadVista: Attempting to authenticate message both in and out of my desktop PC, but alas – things haven’t been quite as smooth as my laptop experiences. The big sticking point is the wireless drivers. I have a rather expensive but rather excellent internal PCI card from Cisco, the Aironet PI21AG (the same thing as the CB21AG which is just the PCMCIA version without the PCI card stuck onto it).

When I first booted up Vista fresh, it recognised the card fine, it pointed me to my wireless network, and all looked to be well. However, on typing in my WPA key it all went to hell in a handbasket. After a brief couple of seconds of pondering Vista proudly proclaimed that it couldn’t connect. Any particular reason? Nope, just couldn’t connect. Again and again I tried, but it wouldn’t budge. If I go and look at my network connections, the words “Attempting to authenticate” lurk there for as long as you dare watch, with no hint as to whether it’s having any luck. Okay, I think – maybe the driver release that comes with Windows Vista has been updated, I’ll run a rather long ethernet cable into my network card and see what it finds. There was indeed an update for that very card, and on applying it, it finally connected. Wasting no time, I grabbed drivers for the other couple of missing pieces, my SoundBlaster Audigy ZS 2 sound card needed drivers from Creative’s site which worked fine. My dual-tuner TV card, the Cinergy 2400i DT took to the beta driver from Terratec like a duck to the water.

So, perfect then – everything was working as it should right? Yes, well – a couple of reboots later, and guess what was rearing it’s ugly head again? Yes, the wireless card – it couldn’t connect again, same as before but with these newer drivers. A quick look in the Event log shows the repeated “Layer 2 security key exchange did not generate multicast keys before timeout” error, whatever the heck that means. I’m not alone either, I found a thread on Microsoft’s own forums (going way back to last Summer) that talks about this problem, seems specific to using WPA as the form of wireless encryption. It’s hard to know whether this is purely driver problems, or if there’s something fundamentally wrong with Vista’s wireless network stack. Certainly on my laptop I’ve not really had this issue despite connecting to the exact same wireless router, using the exact same WPA key. There has been the odd occasion where on restoring from a hibernate it’s decided it no longer likes the settings it has saved for my connection, but a reboot has always sorted that out.

Also, rather bizarrely, after leaving it sitting for awhile it randomly decides to just connect = sometimes. I took the opportunity to quickly check Windows update again, and discovered there was yet another driver for the card that had been released just a few hours previously – suggesting that somebody out there might be aware of a problem certainly with this card. Didn’t make a difference though, installing the driver dropped the connection obviously, and I’m no further on. Same lack of connection, same random connection after a half hour wait or so – all rather dodgy. Damn.

Still, as the hours tick by Microsoft seem to be loading Windows Update up with new additions, in the last hour this is how things have changed:

Windows Update in Vista

Most of the optional updates are language packs, and the important updates don’t seem overly important (none of the Knowledge Base links go anywhere yet, so who knows really), but still – things seem to be ramping up for the big release. Perhaps a wireless or graphics driver lurks in there yet? Nice of Microsoft to give us ‘Hold Em Poker’, but as I don’t know how to play it, it’s unlikely to distract me from the fact that I have no connection to play with on my desktop.

Still, let’s end on a high – I keep discovering little things in Vista that I haven’t encountered already. Last night a particularly eager software install decided it wanted to reboot my machine immediately with out any warning. Vista however realised that I was kind of in the middle of other things, and threw up the rather flashy screen below listing what I was currently doing. Quite nifty, and for the record – I was only recording Celebrity Big Brother to test out Vista Media Centre. Honest.

Vista: Shutdown Warning

The SpaceNavigator – the ‘future’ is here

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Okay, so it’s the space year 2007, and frankly – I expected things to be a heck of a lot more futuristic by now. Call me unreasonable if you must, but where are all the flying cars, where are the damn hoverboards that Michael J Fox showed us in Back to the Future, why aren’t at least some of us living on the moon, and WHY do I still have to use a mouse to move around in 3D on my PC?

Right, so I have no intention of addressing those first few, but as you might have guessed by now – the last one I DO want to try and solve, because if not now, when? This is 2007, those aliens have got to be coming soon, and who’s to say they’ll still allow us to play on our computers?

3D Connexion SpaceNavigator Luckily, 3D Connexion had my back covered, and handily released the SpaceNavigator near the end of 2006. 3D Connexion has been in the market of alternative 3D navigation input devices for sometime, but until now it’s been a prohibitively expensive road to take. The premise of these devices is that in one hand you have your usual mouse choosing options and the like, and then in the other hand on the other side of the keyboard you have your 3D Connexion setup which is really a rubbery cylinder that you can move in six different axis by pulling it or pushing it left, right, away from you, towards you, pulling it up, pushing it down, twisting it in either direction, the lot really. The idea is that this device should be a lot more intuitive when navigating a 3D scene as you’re kind of moving your hand in the direction you want to go, rather than moving the mouse around whilst pushing a given keyboard shortcut key. It’s much better explained by the makers themselves here, if what I’m saying makes no sense.

I first came across these guys back in December 2004 at the ill-fated inaugural CGI Festival, where I got to try out a product they had going at the time, the SpaceBall, similar idea to the latest products, but with a ball instead of a cylinder. It seemed kind of a neat way to navigate, but one that you’d probably need to spend a bit of time on to get used to initially. However, as I alluded to earlier, these things were far too expensive to take a risk on, even if there were potential repetitive strain injury advantages to be had.

Jump forward two years, and although the CGI Festival has disappeared, 3D Connexion had been bought up by Logitech, and the SpaceBall is gone, there’s a number of different devices from them that do much the same thing. The differences between them seem to only lie in the range of buttons around the navigation device itself, and in the case of the SpaceNavigator, you only have two buttons and an overall smaller design, but a very affordable price of around £50 (if you’re not using it commercially) and the same actual navigation cylinder that the other devices have.

How could I resist? Cheap price, funky blue glow, and the word ‘Space’ in the title – the future has arrived! When this little box of 3DConnexion Control Panelfuture turned up, I installed the drivers along with the plugins that get installed to support any of the applications it can use on your PC. In my case, really Maya was the only app of interest, although it will work in Google Earth too which is quite nice.

The first time you start up Maya after the driver install, the 3DConnexion Control Panel pops up, which it will do for any supported application. It gives you the option to set individual settings for how you want to navigate in that particular application. You can set how sensitive it is, which direction zooms (I chose the non-default green arrowed option shown in the screenshot to the right because it made more sense to my workflow), you can turn off a given axis, or make some more sensitive than others, or you can reverse the axis, which I did to the zoom function as it just proved irritating the other way round. If the blue glow around the base isn’t to your tastes that can be turned off too, although you’d be mad to – it highlights your new toy very nicely to passers by.

You can also configure what the two buttons on either side of the base of the device do, but in the case of Maya, it’s better to do this within the custom panel available within the application for a greater number of options.

The custom panel can be opened and closed within Maya by clicking on the new shortcut button added to the top of the screen, or at its default by clicking on the right hand button of the SpaceNavigator, and it gives you access to some application-specific options with regards to navigating a Maya scene, and configuring the two buttons. These buttons can be set to effectively run any command, be it a ready provided menu option, or a custom MEL script, which is handy.

So, options aside – how does it handle? Well, the danger with this kind of thing is to expect too much of it, which was initially my problem. I almost expected just to rest my hand on it and find that suddenly I could zip about in 3D without barely a thought, and that I’d become SO much more productive. The reality the first time I tried it though was one of wanting to throw the damn thing out of the window. Make no mistake, you need to spend a bit of time just getting used to it, making tweaks to the sensitivity, working out if each axis makes sense as it’s currently setup, and just generally mucking around. I actually found that after 15 minutes of playing, I had to just walk away and forget about it for a bit. On returning to my PC though somehow it all started to click, and I have to say – after a month of use it’s really become a very useful asset.

There’s no doubt I can navigate to a particular point in a scene far more quickly and intuitively than with a mouse. With the SpaceNavigator you can be both rotating, moving and zooming all at the same time, rather than one at a time with a mouse, which really makes the world of difference once you become used to the whole thing.

The SpaceNavigator is relatively heavy, and the combination of a rubber bottom, and rubber grip for your hand means it doesn’t really slip away from you as you use it, which is probably just as well, as this thing isn’t perfect.

The big problem I had was really working out where exactly my hand should be to use it effectively. For general panning around you can just plonk your hand on top of it and push around, but it’s not terribly accurate, and the motion of twisting it, or pulling it up into the air can be awkward. Instead, I’ve found resting my hand beside it and kind of pinching the whole thing with my fingers works best. The pulling up motion still isn’t great, I sometimes find the base not quite heavy enough and have to kind of hold it down with a couple of fingers, but on the whole it works out well enough.

What I can’t get used to though is the two buttons on either side. They just feel awkwardly located, and difficult to push from the angle that my hand is at. I usually find myself having to stop and look at it before realising I’m not pushing the button correctly. I naturally want to push it down towards the desk, but the button needs to be kind of squeezed in towards the centre of the device, which with my left hand is fairly fiddly on the right hand side, and almost totally unusable on the left. I’ll often have to take my hand away from its usual position and go out of my way to push the buttons. This kind of counteracts the overall efficiency of using the SpaceNavigator, so the buttons lie unused most of the time as a result.

And that in a particularly large nutshell, is what the SpaceNavigator is all about. It could do with some greater application support: I could do with being able to use it in MotionBuilder and Houdini, it would even be fun to use it with something like Photosynth come the time. It does however come with an API for writing support into applications, along with some example applications, some of which allude to the device being a lot more intuitive to use than it actually is and aren’t very practical. New versions of the software come out frequently though, so you never know what’s around the corner – the device does already support a large number of applications listed here, and they’ve also just added support for Mac OS X, in addition to Windows.

Autodesk Maya 8.5 just came out a couple of weeks back, so I’m personally hoping they add support for this latest release as soon as possible – I don’t want to go back to the old-fashioned way, and it’s the only thing stopping me using 8.5 in anger (the new Python scripting support is great).

The SpaceNavigator gave me a little glimpse of a better world of 3D navigation, and although not perfect – it will do for now until I can navigate purely through mind power. Something for the space year 2008 maybe?

Update (12/03/2007): Please see the comments for the latest on the SpaceNavigator. Basically, Maya 8.5 support came out shortly after I wrote the above, and having tried it this last weekend it works a treat, even under Vista. 3D Connexion have also just let me know that the costs to buy one of these should normally be around £39 + delivery, and there are more retailers selling it now so shop around.

3D Connexion also tell me that there apparently also used to be support for MotionBuilder in the good old days of Kaydara, so anyone who’s keen on getting support for this product with the SpaceNavigator should go and rattle Autodesk’s cage. Similarly, Houdini support will only come if Side Effects have enough people requesting it.

Google Reader – there’s just not enough hours in the day

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Since I started using Google Reader back in early October, it’s become a regular port of call whenever I’ve got time to browse the Internet each day. As Google Reader has improved over the months, with the odd new feature and stability improvements, so too have I added subscriptions to various web pages I want to keep an eye on. But in turn, the number of posts I’m faced with every time I pull up Google Reader have risen to epic proportions – every morning I discover that bloggers and not-so-bloggers have been updating their sites with new postings all night, ready for me to spend the rest of the day trying desperately to flick through them all and get the number of new posts down to zero.

It never happens. Quicker than I can flick through and decide that the hundreds of new items that have appeared are largely not that interesting, more new posts appear. And then more, and more. Obviously the only true way to cut all this down is to remove some of your subscriptions altogether, but then every subscription I have will from time to time throw up something that actually I DO want to read.

Google doesn’t really have an answer for this eternal problem, but as of yesterday morning when I logged in as usual – what they HAVE done is come up with a rather nice new feature that actually just shows that the problem was even larger than I thought, and also kind of hints at where the future may lie in at least reducing the problem – Google Reader Trends. Google Reader can tell me all about my reading habits: when I mostly read items, which sites are updated most frequently, how many of the posts I actually read (not so useful, as I flick through them all eventually), and which of my subscriptions to sites have sat there largely inactive for extended periods of time. There’s even a nice little tag cloud showing what the most common post tags are in all my subscriptions, and how many of these sort of items I actually read.

So what did it tell me? Well apparently for starters, “From your 219 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 10,565 items, starred 1 items, and shared 1 items”. Turns out I have way more subscriptions than I thought I did, and they generated ten and a half thousand items – yikes. Now, obviously if I really had read all 10,565 items I wouldn’t really have had much time for anything else in my life. But even if you suppose that I only briefly flicked my eyes over most items as I tried to fly through them finding something of interesting, that’s still a heck of a lot of time spent just trying to keep on top of what’s going on in the 219 little worlds I decided to keep track of.

The new Trends area also shows me the odd spikes in days where I ‘read’ more items than usual over the last 30 days – I can pretty quickly spot the days when I returned from being away for a weekend, or when I wasn’t near an Internet connection for awhile. It takes me days to catch up, as more items pile up.

Finally, apparently Thursday is the most popular day of the week for me to read lots of items, and I’m most likely to try and read my subscriptions at lunchtime, or between 5 and 6pm – presumably when I’m waiting for a lift home from work, and need to kill time. I’ve apparently never read an item on Google Reader from midnight through to about 6am, and also very rarely have looked at anything between 8am and 9am (either asleep, still waking up, or going to work I guess).

So how does this all really help me? Well, as it currently stands – not a lot. I mean, it can show me exactly what the biggest offenders are for sheer number of posts should I choose to nuke some of them, and it can show me lots of things I didn’t know about my habits, but I’m probably wasting even more time now on Google Reader, because I’m also looking at my Trends now too.

What I’m more interested in is what this potentially could become. Many people are predicting Google Reader could morph into a digg like site where people can view the most read items by everyone on Google Reader, which while nice, I’d rather see it go in another direction. Down the line in fact, I’d far sooner see Google Reader try and predict what kind of stuff I’m actually most likely to want to read based on my habits so far. Did I just flick past a given type of item with barely a glance, did I click a link to certain types of sites from within an item, and what sort of posts do I spend the most time reading? If it knows that, perhaps Google Reader can also help me find the good stuff in amongst the crap, and perhaps I can stop wasting so much time trying to find it myself.

Still, for now it could be worse – Robert Scoble of Podtech has 483 feeds, and read 25,185 items in the last 30 days – clearly I don’t know I’m born.

Xbox 360 Support – e-mail us, so we can tell you to phone us

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Xbox 360 Wireless Adapter I have an Xbox 360. I bought one shortly after making my post about Microsoft’s XNA, and largely I haven’t regretted it. Sure I don’t have an HD TV to try it out on yet, but the games I’ve tried on it so far are all good fun, and Microsoft’s done a great job of creating an intuitive UI experience throughout, right down to syncing it with my Vista installed laptop for a bit of Media Center extending.

Great. But, lately I’ve had some problems connecting to the internet. I bought a wireless adapter for the Xbox 360 when I bought it, and it’s worked rather well for using the Xbox Live service and the aforementioned hooking up to Vista. Then came the ‘Fall’ update for the Xbox that upgraded the console’s software. It might be purely coincidental, but since then everytime I turn on the Xbox 360, it fails to recognise the adapter is plugged in at all. I have to reach behind the console, unplug the USB connector and plug it back in before it springs into life. If I turn off the console, next time I turn it back on we’re back to square one and I have to unplug and replug once again.

Maybe the adapter’s dying, or maybe the update did it – I don’t know, but surely the Xbox 360 Support team can tell me, I thought. Off I head to the Contact Support page, where the two options are to e-mail or phone Support. I opt for the e-mail approach, and fire off an e-mail describing the problem. Just over two hours later, this is the response I get:

Thank you for your email.
For all Xbox Live connectivity issues please visit If you are still unable to connect or have issues in connecting to Xbox after following the Connectivity Wizard, please contact our customer care team on
Thank You
From Xbox 360 Support Team

So okay, firstly I’m told to go the Web Connectivity Wizard, except they’ve linked me to the Swedish version of that page. Once I change the link to go to the British version of the page, I discover that the suggestions there are more about setting up your internet connection. I don’t really have a problem with that, my problem is with the adapter itself being identified at all by the Xbox 360. No good then, so what should I do instead? Well, next up I’ve to contact customer care at, oh wait – the very same page I just contacted them at.

The e-mails you get back from the support team have no notice to tell you if you can reply to the e-mail you’re sent, in fact there’s very little official confirmation that there’s any real followup at all to persue. So off I trundle, and put in a new support call via their e-mail form, telling them that their suggestion didn’t apply to my case, and copied and pasted the rest from my previous call.

This time the response comes back within minutes, or so Gmail tells me the next morning. Here’s how it goes:

Dear Ben,
Thank you for your email. In order to respond effectively to your email we need to investigate further. Therefore please contact the Xbox 360 Customer Support team on or please call tel.0800 587 1102 (customer support), or 44 20 7365 9792 (direct line).
Thank you.
Yours, Xbox Customer Suport.

Hmm, so basically this time I get a response marginally clearer. Although they’re telling me to get in touch via the same page I just have done so from, what they are REALLY saying is, just phone us. E-mail us by all means, but we’re just going to suggest you phone us.

So I did that this evening, and even though I pressed the option it suggested I could right at the start, it still insisted on telling me that I should visit, yes you guessed it, the support site at Once it finally chucked me into the queue system, an american voice told me that I’d have to wait more than two minutes. I took that to mean maybe a couple of minutes more than two minutes, and I presumed that I’d maybe get an update as to how long I’d have to wait, a little while into the queue. Instead, I was repeatedly told to just wait, and 20 minutes later I hung up, having heard Air‘s “La Femme d’argent” from the album Moon Safari start its third playing. Hey, it’s a nice chilled out song, but played in tinny quality over a phone interrupted by an automated voice every couple of minutes, it takes on a slightly more irritating edge. Couldn’t Microsoft afford any other songs? Do they take requests, or is there another queue for that?

These are questions I might have even asked them had I got through. I didn’t, and I’m no further on with sorting out the problem. Maybe someday…

TWiRTftW: This Week in Random Tat from the Web

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

A few things have caught my attention this week, so I thought I’d regurgitate them for you now, whether you want me to or not.

The first thing I wanted to point out kind of leads on from my post about Windows Vista, no not because this post ALSO lacks style or any kind of substance, but because it relates to the many different editions of Microsoft’s new pretty operating system. Microsoft clearly realised that it was all becoming a little too complicated, but rather than just, you know – release one version of Vista, they instead enlisted the help of some cartoon monsters. But of course! If you’ve a spare five minutes of your life that you don’t really mind never getting back, head on over to They Came for Windows Vista for the first two episodes of strangeness.

Moving on, I spotted over on Make that somebody came up with the comical idea of making their own huge Google Earth pin point icon and sticking it in their garden. Genius – the details of how they made it are here.

Whilst you’re in a Google Earth/Maps mood, you might also want to browse through the GoogleSightSeeing list of the top 10 naked people on Google Earth.

Just before I move away from Google Earth and Google Maps, Fredericiana, intern at Mozilla Corporation points out that the Firefox crop circle made over the Summer has made it onto the satellite imagery of both. You can see it for yourself on Google Maps, complete with nearby plane as featured in the rather cool video of the whole thing on Firefox Flicks.

Meanwhile BusinessWeek of all places has an article on the making of Lego, which is a good read. The Lego Group makes 15 billion Lego bits a year, and technically makes more rubber tyres than any other manufacturer in the world, they’re just significantly smaller obviously. Make sure you also look at the photos of the factory itself. I should say that Lego was pretty much my favourite thing to play with growing up, and the sight of so many Lego bricks in one place stil gets me excited. I don’t see any roof bits though in those photos, I never had enough of them to actually meet in the middle…

Catch me if you canCatch me if you can Hosted on Zooomr

That’s pretty much it, except for the above random photo of my cat that I uploaded to Zooomr over the weekend. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog.

Windows Vista so far

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Although I’ve dabbled with Windows Vista since late last year in its various beta forms, it wasn’t until Release Candidate 1 came out that I dared set my own laptop up with it. Windows XP was made to put with a smaller partition in the name of seeing how Windows Vista was shaping up, and Vista and I got on very well from that point on, in so far as one man and an operating system can.

My laptop (a Dell Precision M70) has 2Gb of memory, which seems to be the optimum amount these days where Vista is concerned, certainly I found RC1 ran noticeably faster than XP on the exact same system, heck even the battery life seems to be better. In fact, once Vista was installed I found myself more inclined to use my laptop over my desktop (which still sits with Windows XP and occasionally Suse Linux on it) – something about the whole experience just works, and I guess it helps that it never crashed once the whole time I had that release candidate installed.

However, two weeks ago it became time to nuke Vista RC1 in favour of the RTM (Release To Manufacture) release – Vista was complete at last, and having skipped RC2 I was keen to see how the final product had turned out.

Just before shutting down Vista RC1 for the last time though, a dialog box popped up – turned out that Windows Error Reporting cares much more about your wellbeing than XP ever did. I was allowing Vista to pass back error reports for crashed applications, and lo and behold, it had found a couple of solutions for problems that I didn’t even know I had, and was still awaiting another solution. It had decided to tell me what I could do to rectify the problem, with links through to the full solution. XP always seemed a bit hit and miss on this (almost always miss) – Vista seemed to actually care – aw shucks, who knew?

Anyway, I digress – while that was certainly cute, I was more interested in trying out the final release – and I hoped that I’d maybe even be able to get rid of XP from my laptop shortly after. This all went pretty well, nothing had changed too considerably on the face of it since RC1 (more shiny icons, and a new tinkly startup and shutdown noise aside), and much as RC1 had settled in nicely, so now has Vista RTM. My laptop has a new lease of life, something a replacement recalled battery can never bring – fast, clean interfaces rule the day.

Unfortunately, my eagerness to get rid of Windows XP will have to wait a little longer though. For general work, Vista suits me down to the ground and I find myself loath to reboot back into XP, but as a Maya and Houdini user (both CG packages that need some good OpenGL support), there’s still a bit of a way to go. No doubt nvidia (my laptop came with a Quadro Go1400) has some new drivers almost ready that will start rectifying that problem, and by the time Vista hits its consumer release in late January, with a bit of luck there will be decent performance to be had. Until then though, its really not usable for that kind of work, and although I *could* use XP drivers, that would mean getting rid of a lot of the shiny new interface elements – not essential, but hey if I’m going to use Vista, I want it to look its best!